The shortest month of the year generally hosts the last extreme cold of the year, before the temperatures relax and spring kicks in; now the days start to get longer as the hours of dark diminish a little every day. The Solar System is pretty quiet in February this year, but the sky is full of breath-taking nebulas, galaxies and other celestial objects. This is what February has in store for us.
February 1 – New Moon. The New Moon is the first lunar phase, when the far side of our natural satellite is fully lit leaving the side visible from Earth in the dark. Mark this date on your calendar for this is the best time to observe or photograph faint objects such as galaxies, nebulas or star clusters as there is no moonlight brightening the sky!
February 2 – Conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter. The first conjunction of the month is one not to miss! On this night a tiny 1-day old Moon will be passing 4°19′ to the south of Jupiter. The show will start at around 5:50pm CET above the south-western horizon and will last until 19:39pm. This event is visible to the naked eyed although a pair of binoculars can deliver amazing views!
February 16 – Full Moon. The full Moon in February is the Snow Moon. The name comes from the ancient Native Americans and refers to the heavy amount of snowfall that coincide with this month. The full Moon is obviously well visible to the naked eye but the view through a telescope or binoculars is an unforgettable experience.
February 27 – Conjunction of the Moon and Saturn. The second conjunction of the month involves the Moon and Saturn, the ringed planet. This time, however, the two will meet in the early morning, a few hours before dawn, becoming visible at around 5:10am and then fading away as the Sun rises. This event is visible to the naked eyed although a pair of binoculars can deliver amazing views!
DSOs in February. Orion the hunter is still king in the night sky, with its gems among the most photographed objects, including the Orion Nebula (M42), the Horsehead and Flame Nebula (NGC 2023 and NGC 2024) and Casper the Friendly Ghost Nebula (M78).
Not far from Orion, we find some amazing astrophotography targets, such as the Jellyfish Nebula (IC 443), the Monkey Head Nebula (NGC 2174), the Rosette Nebula (NGC 2244) and the Seagull’s wing (Sh2-296). Moving W-NW we find the California Nebula (Sh2-220), the Flaming Star Nebula (IC 405).
If you’re after galaxies, the Body and Cigar galaxies (M81 and M82) and the Sombrero Galaxy (M104) begin to climb up the night sky whereas the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and the Triangulum Galaxy are still well visible.